Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Anson Jones – Barrington Farm

On March 2, 1836 at Washington-On-The-Brazos, the Declaration of Texas Independence was signed by 59 brave souls who longed for freedom from an obstructive government. This was the beginning of the Republic of Texas and the path that eventually led to Texas joining the United States. One of the most prominent and overlooked players in Texas history is Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas. 

Anson first settled in Brazoria, Texas and at the height of his political career moved to a place near Washington-On-The-Brazos that he called Barrington Farm after his birthplace, Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Today, his home is displayed at the Barrington Living History Farm complex. The Barrington Living History Farm is a representation of life in the mid 1800’s in Texas. They grow crops and raise animals just like Anson and his family did back then.

The house itself is quite interesting. Period antiques and Masonic items adorn the Dog-Trot architectural style home. A painting of Anson himself presides over the fireplace in the bedroom. Many folks don’t realize that Anson Jones established the first Masonic Lodge in Texas and later became the Grand Master of the first Grand Lodge of Texas. The Masons were integral players in the formation of Texas just as they were in the formation of the United States. 

Touring the homestead of Anson Jones was a strong reminder to me that these historic leaders who formed the foundation of Texas started out as ordinary people like ourselves; hardworking and industrious. Their lives serve as reminders that anything is possible if you believe in what you are doing. They were willing to take risks and make sacrifices to improve the lives of their family, friends and neighbors. I wonder if we would have the gumption to do the same if put in their same situation. 

Please remember this historic date and celebrate our Texas heritage, if you are a Texan. If you are not, we still have room for you to join us. I am proud to be a Texan as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Ships of Christopher Columbus

Today the sea is calm, the air is still. The setting sun reminds us of an era slowly fading away. As I stand on the deck of this ship and look out to sea, I wonder what kind of men would take on such a challenge that could end in death. To search for a path to India by sea was a task that seemed impossible to most that lived in Europe in those times. The Flat Earth Society experts scoffed at the mere thought, yet Christopher Columbus held on to his conviction and belief it could be accomplished. Today, we know he was correct in his belief that the earth was round and that he successfully crossed the ocean with three small wooden ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Each ship measured about 50’ long and in the massive Atlantic Ocean, looked liked a bobbing cork in a pond. What a feat on such small ships! 

The ship I am standing on today is the full size replica of the Pinta at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and Modern History. This ship and its sister replica ship, the Santa Maria, are slowly deteriorating in their dry dock location at the museum. (The replica Nina is moored at the Lawrence Street T-Head near downtown.) Tours at the museum are still being held, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess by looking at their condition. The tour guides are very informative and outgoing in their narrative. You get a sense of size and the craftsmanship of the ships of that historic era.

The three replica ships sailed across the Atlantic in 1992 as a gift from Spain. They toured American ports and sailed into Corpus Christi Bay in 1993. What started out as a victory tour has ended up as a disaster of sorts. Neglected? I believe so. How soon we forget our history.

Those of you who are fascinated by the call of the sea or have children who yearn to learn about history should take the time to visit this Corpus Christi museum. With spring break just around the corner, it’s a great addition to your itinerary while you visit Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum

As a young boy, I built many model airplanes and cars but never had the opportunity to buy a model plane that actually flew in the sky. I would see those model planes with working gas engines in the hobby shops, but could only dream of owning one. Visiting the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum in Schulenburg, Texas brought that little boy excitement back to me. I was in awe once again with the complexity of such contraptions.

The Stanzel brothers, Victor and Joseph, did what many of us do not. They followed their passion and built a company doing what they enjoyed the most. So much so, that neither one of them ever married. Their model airplane business was their life. They overcame the obstacles that could have hindered their success. Their ingenuity and determination overshadowed their lack of education. They never let living in a small rural town squelch their dreams, though they lived in the world before the internet provided national and worldwide access to small business owners. Along the way, they employed many in the rural community they lived in and created a foundation that still provides college scholarships to the local students.

As you walk around the displays of model airplanes, boats and carnival rides, you notice the amount of detail and craftsmanship put in each model. The technology of their control line systems was cutting edge at the time. The Mono-Line control system was like no other. Lots of old photos are displayed to highlight all the people involved in the making of the models. The museum itself is modern and well designed, as professional as any museum in a large city, reflecting the emphasis on excellence of its founders.

The original Stanzel factory building sits behind the museum and is also open for tours. Here is where you’ll find the tools and machines required to make the parts and build the models. It’s a guy’s wood working dream shop of days past! Our guide provided lots of information about the factory operations as her mother used to work in the factory. Listening to the first-hand account of life in those times and the workings of the factory brought the shop to life. With the faint strains of the Glenn Miller Band playing “In the Mood” in the background, I could easily visualize the bustling factory and every step in the manufacturing process.

Our last stop of the tour was the historic Stanzel home of Victor and Joe’s grandparents. The house has been restored to represent their lives in the late 1800’s. Simple furnishings and a modest lifestyle reveal the hard-working attitude of this humble family who remained dedicated to their community as they worked to each day to turn their dreams into reality. It is people like this that make me proud to be a Texan as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Well Done!

When I suggested to Al that we redeem a gift certificate we received for a “couple’s class” at the Well Done Cooking School, his reaction was a bit tepid to say the least.  “You mean we have to bring our own wine and drive downtown to cook our own food? And people pay for this?”  Clearly he was not getting into the spirit of this “date night” experience.  But I forged ahead and booked our outing confident that once we were there, he would enjoy himself.

The Well Done Cooking School conducts a variety of classes on all types of food preparation.  They have a French food night, “Food Men Love” class, Italian, sushi, “Death by Chocolate”, and many others.  We (read that “I”) selected Caribbean food because the menu sounded like something Al would enjoy and included some time at the barbeque pit. We were told to bring any refreshments that we liked including wine. So, with our favorite wine in hand, off we went!

The cooking school, located in a small house in the Heights area, had been renovated specifically for this small business. As we entered the house, a long U shaped counter that filled what was originally the entire living space of the home awaited us.  We were greeted by our chef, introduced to the agenda for the evening, asked to choose an apron to wear and choose a cooking station.  As each couple entered the house, donned their aprons and chose a cooking station, we evaluated them like contestants on a cooking show.  I noticed that about 1/3 of the group said they had attended other cooking classes. For the rest of us, it seemed that each couple had one enthusiastic cook paired with one “I’m only here because he/she made me” participant. This mix of amateurs provided relief that we would not be only ones not sure what we’re doing.

Once the class started, even the most unwilling participants relaxed and joined in the party atmosphere.  The wine started flowing, the couples started chatting with those around them and the eating began.  Each course was prepared and served immediately. Unlike cooking at home, there was no need to chop vegetables or measure spices.  Everything was prepared by the cooking staff in advance.  All that participants had to do was follow the vocal instructions for combining and cooking the ingredients.  It was like having your own sous chef! 

We started with fried plantains and then prepared a delicious crab and black bean soup.  Later in the evening the class moved outside to the barbeque area to cook the jerk chicken.  We finished the evening with a rum cake. Yum! As it turned out, Al and I both had a great time and I’d recommend this cooking school to anyone looking for a unique “date night” activity. Our only regret was bringing merely one bottle of wine. With all the activities and chatter going on, the wine was consumed quite quickly! 

We still enjoy making the crab soup recipe at home and chatting about our cooking school experience. I’ll do the cooking and Al watches me cook while consuming his favorite beverage. I wouldn’t have it any other way as we enjoy Texas Thru My Back Door!